VR Explorer

I only recently jumped on the VR (Virtual Reality) bandwagon by purchase of a cheap Gear VR headset that uses my smartphone for rudimentary VR. It has convinced me of the tech’s future.

The first thing I did was explore via the VISO Places app. It is essentially Google Earth for VR. I can name any place in the world or any street in the US and suddenly I’m there, free to look in any direction. I have seen Tokyo,  Vegas, and ancient ruins. I retraced my steps from a trip to Ireland 20 years ago. I visited some old family houses and saw the changes the new owners have made in recent years. Fascinating, with endless possibilities!

Next, I experimented with a handful of interactive experiences. Time Machine VR and Ocean Rift (demo) offered a sense of scale as aquatic dinosaurs swam by or a great white approached a diving cage. Star Wars: Droid Repair Bay showed what it’s like to interact with vividly detailed and well animated characters in a virtual environment. SketchFab let me view animated 3D models from many angles.

But my favorite step into the world of VR has been joining the development side. Though I am still learning how to avoid skews and errors, Kuula’s 360 image sharing service and Microsoft’s ICE (Image Composite Editor) or Hugin stitcher software have enabled me to craft my own virtual reality scenes by combining screenshots from video games. These past two weeks, I have produced spherical VR images for ancient Alexandria and Memphis in Egypt during the Roman occupation, for Minas Morgul and other settings in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for a cartoonish land of pirates, and the Himalayas of Nepal. With a VR headset, anyone can step into these settings and look all around in wonder. Here is my growing collection of VR scenes:

https://kuula.co/profile/hallower1980

Not every game is amenable to creation of these VR translations. I have so far failed to translate the beautiful environments of For Honor and Star Wars: Battlefront. And I have yet to attempt VR translation with real photography, though it is practiced by many others (realtors, foremost). But this has become a rewarding hobby.

Has anyone else dipped their toes into VR or AR?

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17 thoughts on “VR Explorer”

  1. Aaron Miller:
    Has anyone else dipped their toes into VR or AR?

    Yes, way too early.  I try to stay ahead of the curve, but in this case I don’t think there was even a mark on the graph paper.

    In 1988 I wrote a paper, “Through the Looking Glass”, which argued that virtual reality would become the paradigm that would eventually supplant the desktop metaphor which was then becoming widespread in the computer industry.  I made the case that Autodesk, as the leading supplier of modelling software, then expanding into 3D, was in a perfect position to lead this revolution, since we already had the tools, either in the market or the lab, which would allow people to build the 3D environments with which virtual reality users would interact and, in turn, could pioneer virtual reality as the interface designers could use to build and manipulate such models.

    I was sufficiently persuasive that we started a small project, the Autodesk Cyberspace Initiative, to develop a basic toolkit that allowed developing virtual reality applications in a hardware-independent manner.  Such applications could take advantage of progress in virtual reality hardware without reprogramming.  We actually shipped the Autodesk Cyberspace Development Kit in February 1993 (easily, Autodesk’s most obscure and least-known product).  It was discontinued shortly thereafter when our new CEO, Carol Bartz, closed the Autodesk Lab which developed and supported it in order to concentrate on the company’s “core compentency” as she saw it.

    Regardless, all of this was doomed to failure,  It was not until the recently-dawning age of Extravagant Computing, with GPUs able to render photorealistic scenes in real time and high-resolution display technology, haptic interfaces, and position sensing that workable virtual reality has become possible.  In the Roaring Twenties, all of the things we dreamed of thirty years ago will become commonplace.

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  2. I got the Samsung VR (Oculus) set when I got my Galaxy S8.  Tried it out, was fun but not compelling to me.

    Part of standing and looking out at new vistas is the journey there. This avoids all that.

    But I can tell the tech is inevitable and one more step to blurring the line between reality and Reality plus 1, and 2 and 3 and i and so on…

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  3. In the long run, VR will be more for entertainment and AR (Augmented Reality = digital overlays on physical reality) will be more practical, I think. Imagine a phone-sized device on your person connected wirelessly to a contact lens that lets you “ask Siri” what it is you are looking at or where to turn and it responds discretely with a HUD (heads-up display) layed across your normal vision. There are a million possible applications… and it never takes your eyes off the physical world like VR does.

    The advantage of VR is total immersion. It’s akin to the difference between watching a movie from a couch with family vs watching in a darkened theater on an all-encompassing screen. Game designers for VR aim for what they call “presence” — meaning you feel like you are actually in this imaginary place. They want to temporarily warp your sense of reality as much as possible. What could possibly go wrong?

    Thanks for the insight, John. I have considered also delving into photogrammetry and it seems Autodesk is still a leader in the field.

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  4. Are those Klingon anagrams? Urban Dictionary says C4C is either Call of Duty Central or Cash For Clunkers. So D5D must be Dunkin 5 Donuts or DnD for engineers.

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  5. Aaron Miller:
    Are those Klingon anagrams? Urban Dictionary says C4C is either Call of Duty Central or Cash For Clunkers. So D5D must be Dunkin 5 Donuts or DnD for engineers.

    It is a term that everyone* uses and needs no explanation.

    *It is just most of the people here have never heard of it.

    D5D is clearly superior to the antiquated C4C.

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  6. John Walker:

    10 Cents:
    D5D is clearly superior to the antiquated C4C.

    People who play DnD would certainly understand the meaning of “3d6+d8”, if not “5d6h3”.

    I did wonder if Dime was telling me to roll a D6 for a Saving Throw and applying a -1 penalty just for spite.

    “Roll for initiative. The beholder threatens you with Twitter jargon.”

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  7. I have been dipping my cephalic sense organs into an Oculus Rift for the past 10 months or so, as a user only. I was fortunate to find a very powerful PC at reasonable price (Moore’s law at work). I use it mainly for flight simulation. First and best is Aerofly FS2 via Steam. It offers photorealistic scenery of Switzerland and the Southwest in the US, along with multiple aircraft from single-engine Cessna to Boing 747. As an actual general aviation pilot, I can say it is quite realistic. I use a joystick controller. The frame rates are excellent with zero lag or stutter. Resolution is pretty good, but don’t expect 4K clarity. I get to see all my beloved places in Switzerland. I have even buzzed Lignières in an F-15 strike eagle, but John doesn’t notice. And yes, it is good enough to cause disorientation with extreme maneuvers.

    X-Plane 11.2 was recently released with VR, also via Steam. While its standard version is excellent, especially when it comes to aerodynamics, the VR version is really clunky with lag on head motion and stuttering of scenery – even at very low settings on everything. In beta at present, I have hopes it will improve; it is being updated frequently.

    Google Earth (I hate the company – today it “factually” listed the California Republican Party as embracing Nazi ideology) is fun and educational. Since it is free (and I do not consciously use any Google product in a manner which generates revenue for them), I use it almost angst-free.

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  8. AR does seem more interesting ultimately.

    Aaron, have you seen Ready Player One? It’s all VR, of course, because the actual world that everyone is living is a 3rd world dystopia. It’s fun and it certainly gives more scope for movie making by adding another whole dimension for plot development.

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  9. I haven’t seen Ready Player One yet. Some say the film is better than the book, though both are just entertaining. As an avid gamer and movie enthusiast, I expect I will enjoy the easter eggs (cheeky memorials).

    Incidentally, I have my own easter egg, courtesy of Rare! As one of the first testers for the pirate fantasy game Sea of Thieves, I was the first player to visit the “Ferry of the Damned” where pirates await reentry to the world after death. Rare surprised me by carving my XBL gamertag into the Ferry near the door for reentry. Consequently, I have gained an odd sort of celebrity status in the game. It’s a funny experience.

    VR never bytes.

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